HIV testing to become routine for pregnant women and newborns in New Jersey

By Alexandra Steblinina. Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard J. Codey plans to sign the law than will require HIV testing to become precondition for the newborns and as a part of prenatal care.

The measure is a part of national fight against HIV transmission to babies and is considered to decrease the number of such cases.
Some critics say that the screening would deprive women of their right to make medical decisions.

Currently doctors offer the testing to pregnant women, but if the law is adopted, it will become the routine procedure for them and their newborns.
The transmission of the virus from the mother to the child can occur in utero during the last weeks of pregnancy and at childbirth. In the absence of treatment, the transmission rate between the mother to the child during pregnancy, labor and delivery is 25%. However, when the mother has access to antiretroviral therapy and gives birth by caesarean section, the rate of transmission is just 1%. A number of factors influence the risk of infection, particularly the viral load of the mother at birth (the higher the viral load, the higher the risk). Breastfeeding increases the risk of transmission by 10–15%. This risk depends on clinical factors and may vary according to the pattern and duration of breast-feeding.

Studies have shown that antiretroviral drugs, caesarean delivery and formula feeding reduce the chance of transmission of HIV from mother to child. Current recommendations state that when replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe, HIV-infected mothers should avoid breast-feeding their infant. However, if this is not the case, exclusive breast-feeding is recommended during the first months of life and discontinued as soon as possible. In 2005, around 700,000 children under 15 contracted HIV, mainly through MTCT, with 630,000 of these infections occurring in Africa. Of the children currently living with HIV, 2 million (almost 90%) live in sub-Saharan Africa.